Andrea Bersaglieri Dirt, Weeds, Fire: Unearthing a Novel Ecosystem

Andrea Bersaglieri, Front 2021, Oil on Canvas, Photo Courtesy of the Artist

The Gift of Growing Things: Andrea Bersaglieri’s Dirt, Weeds, Fire

Antelope Valley College Art Gallery, Lancaster
Through April 1, 2022

Written by Genie Davis
Andrea Bersaglieri can make even a clod of dirt look beautiful and did so at Antelope Valley College Art Gallery in Lancaster. Dirt, Weeds, Fire offered detailed looks at trees, plants, weeds, and yes, dirt, observations of nature taken from her own yard. Undertaking a documentation of the new ecosystems evolving through climate change and other environmental impacts, non-indigenous species, and the like, she reveals the delicate, transitional aspect of all nature – new, and old.

According to Bersaglieri, “My work has increasingly been focused on my immediate surroundings, literally my own yard, looking for evidence – of what, I am not sure. During the pandemic this just became amplified…a lot of the work was done during the pandemic in this very insular environment.”

She considers her work to be documentarian, and the intimacy and detail of these works in watercolor and as charcoal or ink drawings, is careful and exquisite. Seeing the works exhibited in the high desert, she found to be enlightening. She says that the high desert backdrop of the college gallery space, “with all of the sprawl and traffic and open space, helps contextualize [what] I would imagine the LA Basin [would] look like – without all of the irrigation we apply.”

The artist grew up in the bay area and was surprised by the lack of trees in the Los Angeles area when she first moved south. “Here, when you see a big tree, you’re like ‘oh, wow! look at that tree!! Isn’t it amazing!’ My work started reflecting that amazement of nature. But when I go home to visit, there are so many trees it’s almost humdrum, the trees are a dime a dozen, less special. You don’t appreciate things unless their scarcity draws attention to them, causing you to look more closely.”

Looking more closely is exactly what she does with her images in Dirt, Weeds, Fire. There is the beneath-the-ground deep dive into the literal roots of the eco-system with the charcoal richness of “Dirt;” the silvery, rough fierceness of the watercolor image in “Sebastopol Weed;” the rich, tangled green of “Weed Wedge,” which Bersaglieri says thematically incapsulates this body of work.

And overall, she says she was inspired by Durer’s 1503 work “A Great Tuft of Grass.” Like this work, Bersaglieri’s is alive, natural, and highly specific. Of it, she says “I think I have just given myself permission to go deep in terms of observation. What do they say, ‘still waters run deep?’ By slowing down and looking closely at very specific subjects, it allows for ever closer observation. ‘In the particular is contained the universal’ – James Joyce.”

She notes that while non-objective or abstract art may be viewed as more open and accessible or even as more universally relevant, she gave herself permission with this series to “go tight, go increasingly specific, increasingly detailed…”

Her work in watercolor began as a side project, she says. “I had inherited a set of watercolors from my mom, and I always loved looking at botanical watercolors in reference books. So, I decided to document all of the plants I had in my yard – I am a gardener, and [I thought I could] publish a gardening book specifically for my yard,” an idea she originally found funny. “Right as I was getting the hang of things with the watercolor, the drought kicked into high gear, and I lost most of my plants. I eventually and gradually replaced everything with drought tolerant plants and got rid of the grass. At that point most of my ‘gardening’ revolved around digging up the persistent ‘weeds,’ and it wasn’t long before I realized the weeds were just as beautiful as the previous plants were, you just had to look closer, a lot closer.”

The outgrowth of this observation and her increased expertise with watercolor as a medium led to the realization that she was “documenting the change in our environment, in real time. The plants I had before simply will not grow here now. There are plenty of things that want to grow here, but they are different than before. And the dirt contains this memory. Dirt is the true documenter.”

As curated by AVC gallery coordinator Larissa Nickel, each of Bersaglieri’s works depicted a connection toward environmental change, and the increasing closeness of the artist’s observations. The delicate, close-up watercolor of both “Wild Mustard” and “Corona Cap,” bear gestational roots for her lush oil-on-canvas painting, “Incandescent Garden.”

Asked about the variety of her mediums, Bersaglieri says “I consider myself a drawer mostly, there’s nothing like the immediacy and intimacy of drawing and the way it makes you look at the world in a way that helps you understand things better. I often tell my students ‘If everyone could draw the world would be a better place.’” However, she adds that “I love watercolor because it is so quiet. But you can’t beat oil paint in terms of luminosity, color, and durability.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she also considers the toxicity and waste of her materials. “The little, tiny works are usually just done to use up the scraps of paper from larger works.”

Conceptually, Bersaglieri reveals that the piece that pulled the exhibition together for her conceptually, isn’t in the show, due to its large, 8 x 12-foot size. “Front 2021” vividly depicts a tangled splendor – replete with a stunning red bird and vivid fuchsia flowers. Working on it for three years, she says that “It was going on in the background as I made all the smaller work that is represented in the show. The three larger oil paintings in the exhibition were done after [this] big one, but they all act as a place where I try to figure out how all the smaller studies’ observations will come together.”

As to future observations and bodies of work, Bersaglieri is considering moving from a home studio to a larger space, although she knows that will affect her work itself. “Right now, it is almost performative: I work in the yard, pull something, or dig something up and carry it into the studio to work from it before returning it to the yard – very efficient.” But perhaps literally and figuratively she adds “I think I’m ready to branch out.”

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